The bible is the word of God. It is ancient and yet immensely relevant to our lives. Yet we often struggle to get from the pages of scripture to the reality of everyday life in a way that impacts us and transforms according to the gospel power the scripture promises.
One way to work through this process is to utilize a three-layer approach to the text of determining the original meaning of a text – what the original author intended it to mean to the original recipients; the ultimate meaning of a text – how it is fulfilled and completed by the finished work of Jesus; and the promissory meaning – what point of contact it then has in our lives at any given point in our experience. Without all three of these layers we will either discern scripture to be 1) merely historical with no bearing on our lives, 2) merely spiritualized to point out fascinating connections to Jesus with no connection to God’s bigger redemptive story, and 3) merely personalized and moralized for each individual’s interpretation with no gospel freedom nor power.
In Mark 12, Jesus quotes Psalm 118 and references himself as the stone that the builders rejected – a bit of a dig to the Sanhedrin, the builders who tossed out the most critically important stone of the building, only to have God use it as the Cornerstone.
This passage in Mark 12 quoting Psalm 118 is a great example for us to see how the bible utilizes 3 layers of meaning: original, ultimate, and promissory. In other words: what did the psalmist mean when it was originally written (original meaning), how is it ultimately fulfilled in Jesus (ultimate meaning), and then, how does it impact our lives today (promissory meaning)?
Originally, Psalm 118 was written by the king of Israel who was under constant attack from other nations. All through the psalm the author glories in the saving love of God. Verses 6-7 read, “The Lord is on my side; I will not fear. What can man do to me? The Lord is on my side as my helper; I shall look in triumph on those who hate me.” When we get to verses 22-23, which Jesus quotes in Mark 12 and is quoted by Peter in other passages of the New Testament, we must ask, “Why did the author write this?” You see, there’s nothing in the psalm to indicate that the author was aware he was penning a Messianic promise. He was simply rejoicing that though he had been rejected by the people and other nations, God graciously chose for him to be a king – a cornerstone – for God’s people. Grace and kindness and steadfast love cause the psalmist to marvel at God’s act and he rejoices in the Lord.
Ultimately, we see in the New Testament that it was JESUS, not the king of Psalm 118, who is the final and true rejected Stone that becomes the Cornerstone. Mark 12 and 1 Peter 2:6-7 confirms this. Jesus is the true and final King of the true and final Israel – those who have faith in Him. Though He was rejected by the world and crucified, He is the One around whom life is to be built.
The ultimate fulfillment of Christ as the cornerstone does not toss out Psalm 118’s original meaning; it is simply seen for what it is – a shadow of what is to come that leads our hearts to Christ and what he endured on our behalf.
The meaning of this passage extends beyond the original and ultimate meaning to its promissory meaning. That is, we must ask, “In light of the ultimate meaning, how am I implicated? How and where does this show up in my life?”
Gripped by the certainty of ultimate meaning – that Jesus is the Cornerstone that was rejected by God himself on our behalf so we could be accepted by God – we can identify with Christ when we are rejected by the world. The Gentile nations were rejected by Israel though God desired our inclusion. Now – a stone that was rejected (us, the Gentile nations) are the core of the New Israel, the church of Jesus Christ. When we experience rejection by anyone, we can rest assured in Jesus that by faith, we are not rejected by God. In fact – grace upon grace – we are given a place of honor as His beloved people, and used to advance His kingdom.
In sum, Psalm 118 can now be understood in light of its three meanings:
Original Meaning: Psalmist/King was rejected by those around him but God, by grace, established him.
Ultimate Meaning: Jesus was rejected by the world for being God and by the Father for bearing our sin. Therefore God exalted him to the highest honor: Lord & Savior to be worshiped.
Promissory Meaning: By faith in Jesus, regardless of rejection, we have been given a place of honor as God’s beloved children. Jesus was the Chief Cornerstone rejected and honored, and we are bricks that though worthy of rejection, we are honored by grace to be part of the building; his people.
That, my friends, is really good news.
Enjoy the story…